ISLAMABAD: Police arrested dozens of people on Wednesday after a mob beat a Christian couple to death and burned their bodies for allegedly desecrating the Holy Quran.
Local media reported the couple was accused of burning a copy of the Holy Quran and throwing it in a rubbish bin in the province of Punjab on Tuesday. Police said their bodies were set on fire in a brick kiln.
“We have arrested 44 people, it was a local issue incited by the mullah of a local mosque,” Jawad Qamar, a regional police chief said. “No particular sectarian group or religious outfit was behind the attack.”
The incident took place in the town of Kot Radha Kishan, some 60 kilometres of Lahore, and was the latest example of mob violence against minorities accused of blasphemy.
The victims were only identified by their first names, Shama and Shehzad, and were a married couple.
Police ‘too slow to act’
Punjab police spokeswoman Nabila Ghazanfar said the couple, like many other poor Christians in the area, worked in a brick kiln owned by a local man who has also been arrested.
“Three days ago, a co-worker alleged that they had burnt pages of the Holy Quran. On Tuesday morning, a mob gathered outside their house, dragged them out, beat and burnt them in the same kiln where they worked,” she said.
A local journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said police were too slow to act to protect the couple.
“Police did not take it seriously. Later they sent five officers to the spot,” the journalist said. “The couple was thrashed and burnt in their presence.”
Pakistan's brick kiln workers are often subject to harsh practices, with a study by the Bonded Labour Liberation Front Pakistan estimating that 4.5 million are indentured labourers.
Three-member committee to investigate killings
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has constituted a three-member committee to fast track the investigation of the killings and ordered police to beef up security at Christian neighbourhoods in the province, an official from his media office said.
Blasphemy charges, even when they go to court, are punishable by death in Pakistan. They are hard to fight because the law does not define clearly what is blasphemous. Presenting the evidence can sometimes itself be considered a fresh infringement.
Blasphemy is a serious offense in Pakistan where those accused are sometimes lynched on the spot.
Rights group demands justice for couple
Pakistani authorities must bring to justice those responsible for the vicious mob killing of the Christian couple, human rights groups Amnesty International said in a press release Tuesday.
“This vicious mob killing is just the latest manifestation of the threat of vigilante violence which anyone can face in Pakistan after a blasphemy accusation – although religious minorities are disproportionately vulnerable. Those responsible must be brought to justice and the Pakistani authorities have to ensure at-risk communities are proactively given the protection they need,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director.
Christians make up about two per cent of the country's total population and tend to keep a low profile where militants frequently bomb targets they see as heretical, including Christians, Sufi and Shia Muslims.
All of Pakistan's minorities feel that the state fails to protect them, and even tolerates violence against them.
Last month a British man with a history of mental health illness, sentenced to death for blasphemy earlier this year, was shot by a prison guard in his cell.
Also in October, a Pakistani court upheld the death penalty against a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, who is also accused of blasphemy, in a case that drew global headlines after two prominent politicians who tried to help her were assassinated.